Rocking horses - a gamble worth taking?

Hi Paul, I have an antique rocking horse which is probably between 100-150 years old and has been gathering dust for some time now. Do you think it could be worth anything?  Ms. U. Rawlings

Although this is not exactly my area of expertise, I can tell you that interest in rocking horses has increased significantly of late, and the most sought after models do sell for substantial sums.

The rocking horse has become a symbol of Victorian family life, often envisaged standing astride prettily antiqued castors before a roaring log fire - perhaps its quaintness and old world charm form the basis of its appeal.

rocking horse auction collectibles
Sought after models can achive tens of thousands at auction

"Rocking horses have a lot of nostalgic value," says Dean Failey of Christie's New York. "They remind people of a pleasant time, if not in their own lives, of an age that was gentler and slower and kinder."

In what century the first rocking horses were crafted, however, remains a somewhat contentious issue: a handful of medieval manuscripts refer to toy horses, but whether these are examples of rocking horses or "hobby horses" is still up for debate. Some historians insist that ancient Egypt is the rocking horse's place of origin; others think it was during the 18th century that objects we would identify as ride-on rocking horses emerged, complete with sloping castors, saddle and reigns.

Whatever the reality, the toy peaked in popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it is thought that the classic, dapple grey model favoured by Victorian children remains the most popular today.

The most collectible and coveted rocking horse brand is FH Ayres - a London maker named Frederick Henry, whose distinctive horses can achieve as much as £20,000 ($31,870) if they are in good condition. However, the most sought after Ayres horses (such as a swivel-headed model made in 1887) are naturally very rare and seldom come up for auction.

In addition to Ayres, G&J Lines Brothers and J Collins & Sons are prestigious makers whose horses command high prices.

Condition is a key consideration: much loved (and played with toys) are more commonplace than mint condition models, and often exhibit damage. Professional restoration - although pricey - can increase a horse's value substantially.

Common signifiers of a rocking horse's quality include coloured glass eyes, genuine horse hair in the mane and tail, smooth lines and elegant carpentry and carving. If your horse exhibits any of these valuable characteristics, you could be onto a winner.

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